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The role of crustal heterogeneity in controlling


vertical coupling during Laramide shortening
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DOI: 10.1144/GSL.SP.2004.227.01.07

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The role of crustal heterogeneity in controlling vertical coupling
during Laramide shortening and the development of the
Caribbean North America transform boundary in southern
Mexico: insights from analogue models
MARIANO CERCA1, LUCA FERRARI1, MARCO BONINI2,
GIACOMO CORTI3 & PIERO MANETTI4
1
Centro de Geociencias, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Campus Juriquilla,
Apartado Postal 1-742, Queretaro 76230, Mexico
(e-mail: mcerca@geociencias.unam.mx, luca@geociencias.unam.mx)
2
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto di Geoscienze e Georisorse,
Sezione di Firenze, via G. La Pira 4, 50121 Firenze, Italy
3
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, Universita degli Studi di Pisa,
via S. Maria 53, 56126 Pisa, Italy
4
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto di Geoscienze e Georisorse,
via G. Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa, Italy

Abstract: Analogue models of polyphase deformation involving crustal differences in


strength, thickness and density give insights into lateral and vertical strain propagation
during Late Cretaceous shortening and Early Tertiary left-lateral shearing related to the
early development of the North America Caribbean plate boundary in southern Mexico.
Analogue models reproduce a two-phase deformation characterized by a first stage of
compression orthogonal to the plate boundary, simulating deformation induced by the
Laramide orogeny, followed by a later stage of left-lateral transpression associated with
the transfer of the Chortis block from the North American to the Caribbean plate during
the early stage of development of the new plate boundary in Early Tertiary times. Based
on detailed structural observations in the Guerrero Morelos platform and the western
part of the Mixteco terrane of southern Mexico, we document that a transpressive regime
affected continental red bed sequences of Early Paleocene to Late Eocene, and rotated
and refolded Laramide structures during this second phase. Our model ends before the
transtensional regime that affected the region, which is marked by a volcanic episode of
Late Eocene Oligocene. This change in the deformation regime records the passage of
the NW tip of the Chortis block (North America Cocos Caribbean triple junction),
when subduction replaced transform faulting along the southern Mexico margin. The
models focus on the structures formed around the flanks of a thicker/more rigid crustal
block that simulates the rock assemblages of the Palaeozoic orogens of southern Mexico
(Mixteco Oaxaca Juarez block, MOJB). The comparison of the mechanism of defor-
mation of three different analogue models with the natural prototype explains most of
the structures observed around the MOJB. Counterclockwise vertical-axis rotations of
pre-existing structures in the western flank of the MOJB observed in the Guerrero
Morelos platform are consistent with the modelled structures. Vertical movements of the
modelled MOJB induced by the transpressive regime can explain the Papalutla thrust and
the basement upheaval and gravitational sliding of the cover in the Tentzo Ranges observed
at the western and northern margins of the MOJB, respectively. The growth and propagation
of thrusting controlled by the geometry of the block along the eastern margin also correlates
with the Vista Hermosa fault. The propagation of strain to the north increases with higher
contrast in strength of the thick block with respect to the adjacent modelled crust. Analogue
modelling failed to reproduce all the structural details of southern Mexico and, specifically,
the structures observed inside the MOJB. The latter, however, are controlled by pre-existing
discontinuities, which are not simulated in the model. As a whole, the results demonstrate
that crustal heterogeneity in a developing left-lateral plate boundary zone produces a
stronger vertical coupling between ductile and brittle crust and a widening of the defor-
mation zone along the margin of the North America plate in southern Mexico.

From: GROCOTT , J., TIKOFF , B., MC CAFFREY , K. J. W. & TAYLOR , G. (eds) 2004. Vertical Coupling and
Decoupling in the Lithosphere. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 227, 117140.
0305-8719/04/$15 # The Geological Society of London 2004.
118 M. CERCA ET AL.

Unlike convergent margins, deformation along Frisch 1998, and references therein). At the end
transform plate boundaries on continental litho- of Late Cretaceous, the Chortis block began to
sphere can affect a relatively narrow zone on detach from North America and to move east-
both sides of the plates (e.g. North Anatolia ward with the Caribbean plate, likely as a conse-
fault, PolochicMotagua fault system). However, quence of a reorientation from normal to oblique
it can be argued that, during the initial develop- subduction of the Farallon plate (Herrmann et al.
ment of a transform boundary, deformation is 1994; Meschede et al. 1996). As a result, the
most commonly accommodated in a wide zone, continental margin of southern Mexico was
whereas in a mature stage strain localizes along truncated (Riller et al. 1992; Herrmann et al.
discrete systems of lithospheric strike-slip faults 1994; Schaaf et al. 1995) and middle to lower
(e.g. Gordon 1998). The degree of coupling crustal rocks (Xolapa complex) were exhumed
between the upper mantle, the lower crust and along a 60 km wide band to the north of new
the upper crust ultimately controls the width of plate boundary (Moran-Zenteno et al. 1996).
the deformation zone at the early stage of develop- Non-coaxial deformation and migmatization
ment of the boundary. Furthermore, the presence were inferred to have developed in the Xolapa
of crustal blocks with different thicknesses and complex between 70 and 46 Ma (Herrmann
strengths is likely to alter the coupling and to et al. 1994; Meschede et al. 1996) or in Early
control the transmission of deformation toward Cretaceous (Moran-Zenteno 1992; Ducea et al.
more internal zones of the plates. 2003). Mylonitic zones developed in a general
The development of the North America left-lateral transtensional regime are observed
Caribbean plate boundary in the Early Tertiary bounding middle to lower crustal rocks of the
can help to elucidate the importance of crustal Xolapa complex to the north (Fig. 1).
heterogeneity during the early development of Vertical propagation of strain in the upper
a transform boundary. It has been suggested crust and horizontal transmission to the north
that the Chortis block of Central America was of the shear zone that bounds the Xolapa com-
an integral part of the North America plate from plex are not well understood. Meschede et al.
Jurassic to Late Cretaceous times (Meschede & (1996) used inversion of brittle microstructures

Fig. 1. Terrane boundaries (thick dashed grey lines) and major structural features of southern Mexico (modified after
Campa & Coney 1983; Sedlock et al. 1993). TMVB, trans-Mexican volcanic belt. Terranes: G, Guerrero; M, Mixteco;
O, Oaxaca; J, Juarez; Ma, Maya; and X, Xolapa. GMP, Cretaceous GuerreroMorelos platform. Structures: (1)
Teloloapan Ixtapan de la Sal thrust; (2) ZitlalaCuernavaca thrust; (3) refolded and rotated Laramide folds; (4)
Papalutla thrust; (5) Tentzo Ranges arcuate folds; (6) Oaxaca fault; and (7) Vista Hermosa thrust. Along the northern
boundary of the Xolapa terrane, several mylonitic zones (Mz) crop out in the Tierra Colorada shear zone (TC), and
Chacalapa fault (Ch). Black dashed lines show the approximate boundaries of the MixtecoOaxacaJuarez block
(MOJB) and black solid lines mark thrust boundaries.
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 119

measured in a wide area of southern Mexico to shortening between 88 and 67 Ma (Laramide
claim that the stress applied at the plate boundary orogeny) was followed by Early Tertiary left-
has been transmitted to the north of the Xolapa lateral transpression that affected an area up
complex into the Mixteco and Oaxaca terranes to 250 km to the north of the modern plate
(Fig. 2). They grouped structures in Palaeozoic boundary (Cerca & Ferrari 2001). Starting from
to Early Tertiary rocks inferred to have devel- Latest Eocene, transpression was replaced by
oped between 70 and 40 Ma in a unique event transtension, which triggered widespread silicic
characterized by subhorizontal s1 and s3, i.e. a volcanism (Moran-Zenteno et al. 1999; Alaniz-
left-lateral strike-slip regime of deformation. Alvarez et al. 2002). The Early Tertiary trans-
Recently, however, we have documented a pression was particularly diffuse at the boundary
more complex deformation history. Detailed and in the eastern part of the MixtecoOaxaca
field studies in the Guerrero Morelos platform Juarez block (MOJB), a thicker and more rigid
and the eastern part of the Mixteco terrane crustal block, suggesting that it controlled the
(Fig. 1) show that a major episode of eastwest widening of the deformation zone related to the

Fig. 2. Sketch map showing the main lithological units of southern Mexico (modified after Ortega-Gutierrez et al. Q9
1992; Consejo de Recursos Minerales 2001). GC, Guichicovi complex. Solid lines indicate major fault zones.
120 M. CERCA ET AL.

development of the Caribbean North America Oaxaca terrane (Alaniz-Alvarez et al. 1996),
plate boundary. and Grenvillian rocks have been reported in the
In this Chapter we approach the study of defor- Guichicovi complex SW of the Juarez terrane
mational features around the MOJB indirectly, (Murillo et al. 1992; Weber & Kohler 1999)
by performing analogue models designed to (Fig. 2), which suggests a lateral continuity of
investigate the spacetime propagation of the rocks in between. This seems to be confirmed
deformation in relation to crustal rheological by a magnetotelluric study crossing the Oaxaca
heterogeneities during polyphase deformation and Juarez terranes, which indicates that they
simulating the tectonic evolution of the southern could share a similar basement at depth
Mexico deformed margin. (Jording et al. 2000). The eastern boundary of
the Juarez terrane is the Vista Hermosa fault
zone (Ortega-Gutierrez et al. 1990), east of
Geological and tectonic setting which is the transitional crust of the Maya
Crustal structure of southern Mexico and the terrane thinned during the opening of the Gulf
of Mexico (Fig. 1).
Mixteco Oaxaca Juarez block Given its geological characteristics, we con-
Geologically, Mexico south of the trans-Mexican sider that the block (MOJB) formed by the
volcanic belt (TMVB) consists of a hetero- Mixteco, Oaxaca and Juarez terranes presents a
geneous mosaic of crustal blocks (Fig. 1) that more rigid basement and a thicker crust than
have been traditionally classified using the the surrounding regions. To the west of this
tectonostratigraphic terrane analysis (Campa & block, Mesozoic island arc assemblages and
Coney 1983; Sedlock et al. 1993). Owing to Cretaceous marine carbonates crop out exten-
their differing geological histories, these crustal sively (Guerrero terrane and GuerreroMorelos
blocks or terranes have distinct thicknesses and platform, Figs 1 & 2) and the crust is relatively
rheologies that must be considered in any defor- thinner. The western limit of the block corre-
mation modelling. The Mixteco and Oaxaca sponds to the contact between the deformed
terranes are considered to have the oldest base- and metamorphosed basement (Acatlan complex)
ment in southern Mexico. These terranes are of the Mixteco terrane and the Cretaceous
mainly composed of Precambrian or Palaeozoic carbonate sequences of the Guerrero Morelos
metamorphic rocks, and a Jurassic to Early platform. Finally, further geometrical constraints
Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic cover (Campa are provided by the presence of a semi-
& Coney 1983; Sedlock et al. 1993). The arc-shaped fold-and-thrust belt that surrounds and
Mixteco terrane records a Late Ordovician follows approximately the border of the MOJB
Early Silurian continental collisional event (Figs 1 & 2).
(Acatecan orogeny) related to the closure of the Available geophysical data indicate that the
Iapetus Ocean (Ortega-Gutierrez et al. 1999) crustal thickness decreases from 45 km in the
and was later sutured to the Grenvillian Oaxaca central part of the MOJB to 28 km north of
terrane in the Early Permian (Elas-Herrera & Zihuatanejo and to 25 km in the Tehuantepec
Ortega-Gutierrez 2002). Isthmus zone (Campos-Enriquez & Sanchez-
The basement of the Juarez terrane is poorly Zamora 2000; Valdez et al. 1986; Urrutia-
known, but recent studies suggest that it could Fucugauchi & Flores-Ruiz 1996; Garca-Perez
be also pre-Mesozoic. The boundary between & Urrutia-Fucugauchi 1997). Thinning or absence
the Oaxaca terrane and the Juarez terrane is the of the Late Cretaceous carbonate sequences in
northsouth-trending Sierra de Juarez mylonitic the Mixteco, Oaxaca and Juarez terranes indi-
complex, which records right-lateral movements cates that the MOJB was at least partially emer-
related to the southward movement of the gent and represented a major heterogeneity of
Yucatan block and the opening of the Gulf of the southern Mexico crust with well-developed
Mexico in Mid-Jurassic times (Alaniz-Alvarez boundaries by Late Cretaceous times (Fig. 3).
et al. 1996) (Fig. 1). It has also been suggested
that the Juarez terrane was the site of a rifting
in Jurassic times (Sedlock et al. 1993, and refer- Laramide deformation
ences therein). However, Jurassic volcanism is After earlier deformation phases, southern Mexico
very limited and recently published regional was affected in Late Cretaceous time by contrac-
maps show a wide area of Palaeozoic meta- tional deformation during the Laramide orogeny
morphic rocks in the core of the Juarez terrane (Lang et al. 1996; Bird 1998; Cabral-Cano et al.
(Consejo de Recursos Minerales 1998, 2001). 2000a). The migration of deformation towards the
In addition, the protolith of the Sierra de Juarez continent has been associated to low-angle and
mylonites is, at least in part, the Grenvillian high-velocity subduction in the western margin of
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 121

Fig. 3. (a) Digital elevation model of the southern Mexico continental margin and (b) idealized longitudinal
section. Analogue models were designed to investigate the influence of a rigid block in the brittle crust. In the
models the section was simplified assuming a stratified two-layer and uniformly thick crust.

the North America plate (Bunge & Grand 2000). progressive shortening caused a second ductile
The onset of the Laramide deformation in southern deformation with opposite vergence (back-
Mexico has been constrained by the deposition of thrusting) of structures.
the Mezcala flysch, which records a sudden
change from carbonaceous to terrigenous sedimen-
tation and represents the youngest deformed unit. Early Tertiary deformation
This transition is set at the CenomanianTuronian The rock sequences recording the time interval
boundary (c. 93 Ma) (Hernandez-Romano et al. between Maastrichtian and Late Eocene in the
1997) or at the TuronianConiacian boundary (c. study area consist mainly of continental sedi-
89 Ma) (Lang & Frerichs 1998). Almost all mentary deposits and minor volcanic rocks (e.g.
authors agree in placing the end of the Laramide Tetelcingo, Balsas, Oapan and other locally
episode in the Paleocene in view of time constraints named formations) that fill basins bounded by
north of the TMVB (Salinas-Prieto et al. 2000, and northsouth folds and thrusts formed during pre-
references therein). However, volcanic and plutonic vious eastward shortening. Until recently, short-
rocks of 6762 Ma unaffected by Laramide-style ening structures of contrasting style affecting
deformation suggest a Maastrichtian age at least these Early Tertiary sequences have been attrib-
in the GuerreroMorelos platform area (Ortega- uted to the Laramide deformation. Complex pat-
Gutierrez 1980; Meza-Figueroa et al. 2001). terns of shortening and associated strike-slip
The Laramide orogeny produced regional faults have been observed widely in these
ENE-directed shortening that presumably amal- sequences north of the shear zone bounding the
gamated and stacked the volcanic arcs and sedi- Xolapa complex. In particular, deformation
mentary successions of the Guerrero terrane onto decreasing gradually upwards can be observed
an attenuated continental crust (Cabral-Cano in the continental deposits of the Balsas and
et al. 2000a, b). The result of the shortening is Tetelcingo formations on the western flank of
manifested in a wide north south-striking the MOJB (Fries 1960; De Cserna et al. 1980;
fold-and-thrust belt with vergence towards the Ortega-Gutierrez 1980) (Fig. 4). The most
ENE. According to Salinas-Prieto et al. (2000), notable example is a wide deformation band
122 M. CERCA ET AL.

Fig. 4. Simplified geology of the western margin of the MOJB (Mixteco terrane) and GuerreroMorelos platform
and location of the Early Tertiary basins deformed.

(60 km) in front of the NESW-trending (Figs 4 & 5) suggests that it moved during the
Papalutla thrust that affects Tertiary volcanosedi- Early Tertiary, although previous movements
mentary deposits of the Copalillo and Tuzantlan are not discarded.
basins (Fig. 4). Deformation, characterized by In the middle of the Guerrero Morelos plat-
NW-directed shortening and NWSE strike- form, where the thickness of the sequences in
slip faults, is more intense near the Papalutla the Balsas basin reaches c. 500 m, deformation
fault (Cerca & Ferrari 2001). This structure characterized by a large NW SE fold and the
dips to the east and along 9 km of its length absence of normal faults is worth nothing. The
thrusts Palaeozoic rocks of the Mixteco terrane intensity of folding decreases towards the top
on top of the Cretaceous sedimentary succession of the sequence (Fig. 5a c).
of the GuerreroMorelos platform. Models that Towards the southern part of the Guerrero
characterize Laramide deformation by east- Morelos platform, deformation is characterized
verging thrusting of the Late Cretaceous by asymmetric NW SE synclinorium-type
sequences (Campa 1978; Campa & Coney structures (Chilpancingo basin) and NW SE
1983; Salinas-Prieto et al. 2000) fail to explain strike-slip faults (Fig. 4). Near the boundary
the geometry of this fault. On the other hand, with the Xolapa complex, the Late Cretaceous
our recognition of a deformation consistent carbonates are refolded and aligned with east
with the geometry of the Papalutla fault in the west-trending folds with vertical hinge lines
Copalillo and Tuzantlan continental deposits (Fig. 5d). In this area, large outcrops of carbonate
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 123

Fig. 5. (a) Panoramic view to the NE of the Balsas sequence in the central GuerreroMorelos platform showing
change in the inclination of layers. (b) From bottom to top, Maastrichtian Tetelcingo, Paleocene Balsas and Oapan
formations, the sequence is covered by undeformed Oligocene volcanic rocks. (c) Deformation of a volcano-sedimentary
sequence in the Tertiary basins in front of the Papalutla thrust. (d) View to the west in the MexicoAcapulco
highway showing Cretaceous limestone of Paleocene. (e) Vertical bedding of Paleocene conglomerate within a tight
fold in the Yanhuitlan sequence.

breccias adjacent to the mylonites and under- been observed in the Yanhuitlan area (Fig. 5e).
lying the Early Tertiary sequences are evidence Other structures (mostly strike-slip faults and
of the rupture and detachment of the Chortis minor folds) within and east of the MOJB have sus-
block (Mills 1998). pected Paleocene to Eocene age and affect the plate
Within the MOJB, localized folding associated margin in an area of variable width to the north of
with strike-slip movements of the same age has the shear zone bounding the Xolapa complex.
124 M. CERCA ET AL.

Tertiary deformation inversion from faults in the Etla tuff (site ETV-
All the above evidence indicates that, in the S2) dated at 17 Ma (Urrutia-Fucugauchi &
GuerreroMorelos platform and the western part Ferrusqua-Villafranca 2001).
of the MOJB, deformation during Early Tertiary Summarizing all the above information, we
times was distinct from the Late Cretaceous propose that the Early Tertiary strain
Laramide shortening and was essentially trans- (6536 Ma) constituted a phase of deformation
pressional. Constraining Laramide shortening different from the Late Cretaceous Laramide
between the time interval from 88 to 67 Ma shortening and the post-Eocene transtension.
implies that in southern Mexico it commenced This deformation is represented overall by loca-
earlier and continued for a shorter time than in lized tectonic dragging effects and small counter-
the north (7540 Ma; Bird 1998, and references clockwise rotations about the vertical axis of
therein). This difference suggests that a change previously formed structures and semi-rigid
in the tectonic setting of southern Mexico occurred crustal blocks. Consistent counterclockwise
during the Late MaastrichtianEarly Paleocene rotation of Laramide structures and Early Tertiary
interval. There is ample evidence that an ESE sequences (Balsas formation) has also been found
left-lateral strike-slip regime over a broad zone in palaeomagnetic studies (Molina-Garza et al.
dominated the Cenozoic tectonics of the MOJB. 2003, and references therein). We propose that a
This regime has been related to the detachment transpressive regime also affected the study
of the Chortis block from North America and its region during these times based on the following
transfer to the eastward-moving Caribbean plate. considerations: (a) consistent folding and strike-
This process is likely to have begun at the end of slip faults are observed in the Early Tertiary red
the Late Cretaceous as a consequence of changes bed sequences that record the time interval
in the angles of convergence and subduction between the Early Paleocene and the Late
between the Farallon and North America plates Eocene, this deformation decreasing gradually to
(Engebretson et al. 1985; Ratschbacher et al. the top of the sequence; (b) there is a remarkable
1991; Herrmann et al. 1994; Meschede et al. absence of major normal faults affecting these
1996). A second important change occurred sequences; and (c) northsouth-trending, vertical
when the northwestern tip of the Chortis block hinges of Laramide folds are refolded as a conse-
and the trenchtrenchtransform triple junction quence of the strike-slip of lower crust rocks.
passed along the coast of southern Mexico. In this context we hypothesize that this hetero-
According to the model of Moran-Zenteno et al. geneous Early Tertiary deformation can be
(1996), the uplift of the continental margin ascribed to a general left-lateral strike-slip regime
and the exhumation of the middle crustal rocks at the early stages of the Chortis block transfer to
of the Xolapa complex followed the passage of the Caribbean plate (Fig. 6). As mentioned
the triple junction. Uplift and exhumation were above, this deformation regime was triggered by
accomplished through the development of the changes in convergence direction and subduction
mylonitic zone bounding the Xolapa complex to angles between the Farallon and North America
the north. Available isotopic ages and crosscutting plates. Crustal strain was distributed in a wide
relationships between plutons and the mylonitic area along the developing transform plate bound-
zones also indicate that magmatism was active ary. The presence of the thicker and more rigid
just before and after the triple junction passage MOJB caused an inland propagation of defor-
(Schaaf et al. 1995; Moran-Zenteno et al. 1999). mation within a transpressional regime. This
In the area of the Guerrero Morelos platform, deformation decreased gradually as it was accom-
the triple junction passage is well documented by modated heterogeneously by rotation of structures
a widespread Late Eocene Early Oligocene and newly formed discrete shear zones. With the
(3630 Ma) volcanic episode (Moran-Zenteno passage of the trenchtrenchtransform triple
et al. 1999, and references therein; Cerca et al. junction in the Late EoceneOligocene, the trans-
2003). In the northern part of the Guerrero form boundary was replaced by subduction. This
Morelos platform, this last volcanic episode has represents a free boundary that triggered transten-
been associated with a transtensional regime sion inside the continental margin.
(Alaniz-Alvarez et al. 2002). Post-Eocene trans-
current and transtensional deformation is wide- Analogue modelling of the Late Cretaceous
spread also to the east. Indeed, Meschede et al. and Early Tertiary deformation
(1996) obtained a strike-slip palaeotensor from
faults in volcanic rocks at Chilapa (their site Model construction
CHI2-S) that we dated at 32.7 Ma (Cerca et al. Experiments were performed at the Tectonic and
2003), and a transtensional palaeotensor by Geomorphic Processes Modelling Laboratory of
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 125

Fig. 6. Cartoon showing the hypothetical model of the deformation phases. (a) Laramide deformation during the Late
Cretaceous caused a wide fold-and-thrust belt. (b) During Early Tertiary transpression, new structures form around the
MOJB, counterclockwise rotation and Laramide structures are refolded, rotation reaches c. 158. Nomenclature as in
Figure 1, plus Yu, Yucatan block. The position of the later exhumed Xolapa terrane is indicated (X). Arrows indicate
approximate vector of convergence between Farallon and North America plates, after Engebretson et al. (1985),
Meschede & Frisch (1998) and Bunge & Grand (2000).

the CNR-IGG at the University of Florence, to reproduce a two-phase convergence: a first


Italy, and were built in a squeeze box type phase of orthogonal compression followed by a
apparatus (Fig. 7). The apparatus consists of a later stage of shortening with a lateral component
metallic table with a fixed wall on one side. On in a NE direction. In order to obtain orthogonal
the opposite side there is a parallel wall that is convergence during the first phase, the moving
allowed to move in different directions. Displa- wall of the experimental apparatus was modified
cement of this moving wall, which is produced by fixing an orthogonal short metallic wall at one
by electric motors and controlled (in terms of of its extremities and producing an L-shaped wall
direction and velocity) by a central unit, allows that was allowed to move in a parallel direction
simulation of normal and oblique extension, with respect to the fixed wall. In this setting,
orthogonal to transpressive contraction and the short metallic wall produced orthogonal
strike-slip deformation. compression of the models, with a direction of
Models, with dimensions of 40 cm length, shortening that was parallel to the fixed metallic
39 cm width and 1.55 cm average thickness, wall. The models were shortened by 42 mm
were built on the metallic table of the experimen- (11% bulk shortening) at a velocity of 6 mm h21
tal apparatus, between the fixed and moving during this phase. During the second phase, the
walls (Figs 7 & 8a). Experiments were designed short metallic wall was removed and the
126 M. CERCA ET AL.

Fig. 7. Motorized analogue modelling apparatus used to perform the experiments.

moving wall was displaced in such a way as to Dry quartz sand with well-rounded and uniform
create transpression at an angle of 158 with size grains (0.24 mm) was used to model the
respect to the fixed wall. Models were shortened brittle behaviour of the upper crust. Quartz sand
by 72 mm (17% bulk oblique shortening) at a has a mean density of 1400 kg m23 and insigni-
velocity of 15 mm h21 during this second ficant cohesion (70 Pa). Layers of coloured sand
phase. Three representative models are discussed were sieved and sedimented as passive markers to
in detail in this work (see Table 1). Photographs highlight deformation in the longitudinal sections.
were taken at regular time intervals with vertical In models Chortis 02 and 03, the rigid block
and lateral illumination to observe the develop- was simulated by thickness variation of the sand
ment and propagation of the structures. At the layer in order to create lateral strength hetero-
end of each experiment, models were covered geneity. In model Chortis 04, the rigid block
by white sand to preserve the final topography was simulated by using humid plastic clay to
and subsequently soaked in water to allow non- enhance the strength contrast between the block
disturbed cuts of longitudinal sections. and normal crust and to exaggerate its influence
on the model deformation pattern. Plastic clay
has a mean density of 2500 kg m23 and unscaled
Model rheological structure and analogue high cohesion compared with the sand. A rough
estimation of the clay cohesion using a shear
materials vane tester yielded values ranging between c.
We constructed models that were designed to 37 and 59 kPa. Model Chortis 03 was varied
simulate a simplified two-layer vertical rheology: slightly from model Chortis 02 by lubricating
a brittle upper crust and a lower ductile crust the metallic table with Vaseline oil in order to
(Fig. 8c & f). A parallelepiped-shaped built-in reduce basal friction.
block representing the rigid block was con- To simulate the ductile behaviour of the lower
structed in one side of the models, adjacent to crust, a homogeneous mixture of silicone polymer
the moving wall (Fig. 8b). The parallelepiped (Mastic Silicon Rebondissant No. 29 provided by
was 25 cm long and 15 cm wide. The right CRC Industries, France) and sand (with a silicon:
and left external sides of the parallelepiped had sand ratio of 5:5.5 by weight) has been utilized.
angles of 458 and 358 with respect to the The mixture has a red colour, a density ranging
moving wall. The thickness of the brittle material from 1450 to 1500 kg m23, and a dynamic
was 7.5 mm, but increased to 11.5 mm within the shear viscosity h 3  105 Pa (determined at
rigid block. 218C using a coni-cylindrical viscometer).
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 127

Fig. 8. Construction of the model: (a) 3D view; (b) map view; and (c) longitudinal section of models Chortis 02 and 03
and location of profiles. Strength profiles: (d) the modelled crust, (e) the modelled block constructed with sand,
(f) longitudinal section of model Chortis 04, and (g) the modelled block constructed with clay.

This material exhibits Newtonian behaviour at Scaling of models


low strain rates such as those occurring in the Scaling of a model is based on the kinematics,
experiments (,1023 s21). After construction, a dynamics and geometrical similarities between
grid of sand over the model surface served as a the model and the natural prototype (Hubbert
passive strain marker for the map views. The 1937; Ramberg 1981). Models were designed
initial strength profiles of the models for specifically to simulate the two phases of defor-
maximum values of strain rate (1  1023 s21) mation that affected the south of Mexico. Thus,
produced in the second phase are presented in simplified geometry and boundary conditions
Figure 8d, e and g. The properties of the materials were reproduced using all the geological, struc-
used and a comparison with the natural properties tural, geochronological, and geophysical infor-
are summarized in Table 2. mation available for southern Mexico.
128 M. CERCA ET AL.

Table 1. Characteristics of the three experiments

Chortis 02 Chortis 03 Chortis 04


Material used for the thicker block Sand Sand Humid clay
Cohesion contrast of the block with No No High
respect to the adjacent upper crust
Lubrication at the base of model No Vaseline oil No
Nature of initial boundary between Vertical Vertical Vertical
thicker block and lower crust

Models were properly scaled to Nature in such shear viscosity of the siliconsand mixture of
a way that 1 cm in the model is equivalent to 3  105 Pa s, then h 3  10217 and 1
20 km in Nature and geometric similarity l 8.5  109. The horizontal displacement velocity
lmodel/lnature 5  1027. In the same way, the can be calculated from v vmodel/vnature
normal stress ratio between the model and 1 l , giving v 4250.
Nature must be scaled with the general stress In the first phase of deformation, experiments
reduction equation s smodel/snature r g l , represented ENE progressive Laramide shortening
where the asterisks represent the ratio of the active during the interval from Turonian to
variable in the model and in Nature. This equa- Maastrichtian Earliest Paleocene. Actual peak
tion can be reduced to s r l , because tests velocities computed for the Colorado Plateau in
on the models were conducted under normal the Laramide orogeny of the Rocky Mountains
gravity conditions, g 1. The mean value of are 1.5 mm a21 (Bird 1998). However, in the
density in the brittle upper crust is approximately Rocky Mountains the Laramide orogeny oc-
2750 kg cm23, and the ratio r 0.51, so the curred within a continental plate, not involving
density ratio between brittle and ductile crust large deformations or displacements and in a
(BC/DC) is approximately 0.95. With these different period of time from 75 to 35 Ma (Bird
values, a stress ratio of s 2.55  1027 1998). In southern Mexico, the Laramide is a
between model and Nature has been calculated. progressive deformation directed to the east
In ductile materials, viscous forces are related that affects a wide area and crustal blocks of
to dynamic shear viscosity and strain rate by diverse composition (Salinas-Prieto et al. 2000;
s 1 h or 1 s /h . Assuming a reasonable Cabral-Cano et al. 2000b). Laramide shortening
value for the dynamic shear viscosity of the in southern Mexico was estimated at approxi-
Q1 lower crust of 1021 to 1023 Pa s (Corti et al. mately 60 km on a balanced section in the
2002; Willner et al. 2002), and for the dynamic eastern Guerrero terrane (Lang et al. 1996) and

Table 2. Model and natural parameters used in experiments

Parameter Chortis 02 and Chortis 04 clay Nature Model/nature ratio


03 block (referred to models
Chortis 02 and 03)
Density, BC (kg cm23) 1400 2500 2750 0.51
Cohesion, BC (kPa) insignificant 3759 6  107
Coefficient of friction, BC, m 0.7002 0.6 0.85
Density, DC (kg cm23) 1450 2900 0.5
Viscosity, DC, n (Pa s) 3  105 1021 1023 3  10217
Gravity, g (m s22) 9.81 9.81 9.81 1
Length, l (m) 0.01 0.01 20000 5  1027
Stress, s (Pa) 2.55  1027
Strain rate, 1 (s21) 2  1024 2.3  10214 8.5  109
Time, 1st phase, t (s) 2.82  104 2.82  104 6.62  1014 3.80  10211
Time, 2nd phase, t (s) 1.72  104 1.72  104 8.19  1014 2.11  10211
Velocity of displacement, 1.67  1026 1.67  1026 3.93  10210 4.25  103
1st phase, v (m s21) (6 mm h21)
Velocity of displacement, 4.17  1026 4.17  1026 9.83  10210 4.25  103
2nd phase, v (m s21) (15 mm h21)

BC, brittle crust (sand); DC, ductile crust (silicon sand mixture).

Estimated at 24% water content with a vane tester.
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 129

available age constraints indicate that it occurred the rigid block without affecting it significantly.
in about 20 Ma. Using these values we obtain a In the models Chortis 03 and Chortis 04, increas-
rough estimation of velocity of 3 mm a21, ing displacements along the existing structures
twice the velocity in the Rocky Mountains, and were registered (Fig. 9h & l) but no new struc-
vmodel of 1.5 mm h21. In order to carry out the tures were formed. A general characteristic of
models in a convenient experimental time, we the deformation during the first phase is the per-
assumed a vmodel 6 mm h21. With this setup iodic growth of the main thrusts with a spacing of
the experimental time decreased without a signi- 3.54 cm. The model Chortis 03 also devel-
ficant change in the resulting structural pattern. oped small backthrusts, likely as a consequence
The second phase of deformation simulated the of decreasing the friction by lubricating the
left-lateral transpressive regime affecting the area base with Vaseline oil.
between the Early Paleocene and Late Eocene. It is important to note that, due to the model
Meschede & Frisch (1998) estimated over design during the first phase, the movement of
1000 km of displacement of the Chortis block the wall adjacent to the rigid block caused a
during the Palaeogene. Previous studies calculated small boundary effect that was reflected by the
deformation velocities between 54 and 56 mm a21 slight distortion of the passive mark lines and east-
(Herrmann et al. 1994; Schaaf et al. 1995) assum- ward dragging of the south tip of the thrust faults in
ing a narrow plate boundary where strain is the three models. This boundary effect, however,
accommodated in localized shear zones. However, did not affect the model results significantly.
in a diffuse plate boundary, velocities can decrease
considerably because strain is accommodated in a
wide area (Gordon 1998). Furthermore, the rheo- Evolution of deformation in the second
logical heterogeneities and mechanical anisotropy
of the continental margin play an important role in phase
the propagation and partitioning of deformation Figure 10 portrays the model evolution during
during orogenic events (Vauchez et al. 1998). the second phase of deformation (left-lateral
With these values, a reasonable deformation transpression). In this case the bulk oblique
velocity of approximately 32 mm a21 was as- shortening (b.o.s.) is calculated as the percentage
sumed and a model velocity of 15 mm h21 in an of the moving wall displacement with respect to
ENE direction was computed. the resulting length of the model in the same
direction (414 mm).
In the models Chortis 02 and Chortis 03, during
Model results the first 5.8% b.o.s. (24 mm), the transpressional
deformation was accommodated by a major left
Evolution of deformation during the first phase reverse-slip fault orthogonal to the first phase struc-
Map views and line drawings showing the evolu- tures and parallel to the moving wall. Minor faults
tion of deformation during the first phase of and folds formed north and south of the main
deformation are presented in Figure 9. At 3% thrust, with an angle of 458 to the trend of this
bulk shortening (3% b.s. 12 mm), the initial structure and a length of 2 cm (Fig. 10b & c).
model deformation is manifested at the surface Pre-existing thrust faults formed during the first
as north south-striking thrusts, with vergence deformation phase started to rotate counterclock-
toward the foreland, developed at about 3.5 to wise close to the moving wall during transpression;
4 cm in front of the moving wall (Fig. 9b, & j). a similar rotation pattern characterized the passive
At 9% b.s., a second thrust was created 4 cm in markers on the model surface. Notably during the
front of the first structure in the models Chortis second phase, deformation at the eastern side of
02 and Chortis 04 (Fig. 9c & k). In the model the block caused the development of a foreland-
Chortis 03, the second thrust with the same verging thrust that progressively propagated to
vergence was formed earlier at about 4.5% b.s., the NW following the block boundaries.
4 cm in front of the first structure. In this In the case of model Chortis 04, the clay block
model, at 9% b.s. several discontinuous folds behaved as a rigid indenter in which the defor-
and a thrust formed between the two main struc- mation was controlled by the high strength con-
tures, up to 3 cm in front of them (Fig. 9g). trast with respect to the adjacent thinner brittle
The models show differences in the defor- crust. No structures formed within the block
mation at the end of the first deformation and the deformation propagated at the block
phase, at 10.5% b.s. A third thrust with a boundaries with a higher velocity; at 3% b.o.s.,
regular interval of 4 cm was formed in front of all the structures showed in Figure 10j were
the second structure in the model Chortis 02 already formed. Around the block, thrusts
(Fig. 9d). This structure followed the shape of formed both at the clay sand boundary and at
130 M. CERCA ET AL.

Fig. 9. Surface-view evolution of structures in the two phases presented in the form of a schematic table in Figures 4 and 5.
The three experiments are presented in columns and consecutive east-directed shortening are presented in lines. The
shaded area in line drawings corresponds to the modelled thicker crustal block. Symbols of structures as in Figure 4.

2 cm in front of the rigid block. At the western a double vergence. At 5.8% b.o.s., the rigid
side of the block, both these thrust sets showed a block had moved approximately 1 cm to the
vergence towards the hinterland, whereas the NE, as indicated by distortion of the passive
thrusts at the eastern side were characterized by grid (Fig. 10j).
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 131

Fig. 10. Surface-view evolution of structures during the second phase of oblique shortening.
132 M. CERCA ET AL.

Progressive transpression in models Chortis 02 related to the presence of the rigid block, defor-
and Chortis 03 was expressed by the continued mation propagated for only a short distance in
movement on the main left reverse-slip fault front of the moving wall in zones 2 and 3.
and by further rotation of pre-existing structures Zone 2, corresponding to the northern part of
(Fig. 10c & g). This rotation also affected the the block, displays thrusts with opposing ver-
oblique faults and folds of the second phase of gence. In the western side of the block, thrust
deformation and progressively reduced their faults related to the fold-and-thrust belt are
angle to the main fault until they became characterized by vergence to the foreland; con-
aligned with its trace. Slight distortion of the versely, thrusts in the eastern side of the block
passive markers and offset of the main fault show a vergence toward the moving wall
suggest a small counterclockwise rotation of the (Fig. 11c, g & l). These latter structures are
rigid block. In model Chortis 04, the most import- formed during the second phase of deformation.
ant effect during this deformation interval was In zone 3, cross-sections display structures
that movement of the rigid block a further formed mainly during the second phase of defor-
1 cm to the NE caused left-lateral strike-slip mation (Fig. 11d, h & m). Longitudinal sections
structures to form. Distortion of the passive grid of model Chortis 04 (Fig. 11k) show how the clay
indicated a small clockwise rotation of the block block acted as a rigid indenter causing high-angle
that induced the development of an extensional reverse faults with vergence towards the block
basin at the west side of the block (Fig. 10k). and crust uplift at its boundaries. The block
At the end of the experiments (17.4% b.s., remained undeformed as shown in all three
72 mm of compression), the thrusts developed sections (Fig. 11d, h & m).
in models Chortis 02 and 03 at the eastern
margin of the rigid block have propagated
toward the NE and reached the northern part of Summary of results
the block; distortion of the passive markers indi- The general structural pattern that resulted from the
cates also right-lateral strike-slip faults along this progressive deformation of the models is presented
margin (Fig. 10d & h). In model Chortis 04, the schematically in Figure 12. During the first phase,
total displacement of the rigid block to the NE a fold-and-thrust belt with a dominant vergence
was 3 cm and the clockwise rotation reached towards the foreland formed parallel to the
98. A part of the block close to the moving moving wall. Apart from model Chortis 04, the
wall was slightly uplifted and the basin in the second phase deformation was mainly accommo-
west side of the block doubled its area. Counter- dated by the formation of a left reverse-slip fault
clockwise rotation of the first phase thrusts was orthogonal to the trend of the first phase faults,
also evident on this side of the block at the end and by lateral translation and rotation of the rigid
of the experiment. block. The higher cohesion of the clay block in
model Chortis 04 prevented internal deformation
and caused indentation in the adjacent crust. In
Longitudinal sections all the experiments, a second system of thrusts
Ten longitudinal cross-sections representative of nucleated at the eastern margin of the thicker
the final stage of model deformation are shown in crustal block and then propagated northwestward
Figure 11a, c and i. These sections highlight the in domain I (Fig. 12). With increasing deformation,
different influence of the two phases of deformation a second fault system was observed in the west side
in different parts of the model, defining three dis- of the rigid block, domain II. Vertical-axis counter-
tinct regions: (1) a zone extending northward clockwise rotation of structures was observed in all
beyond the rigid block, affected only by the first three models in the interference zone between the
phase of deformation (Fig. 11b, f & j); (2) a zone two phases of deformation. Additionally, the clay
corresponding to the northern part of the block block in model Chortis 04 rotated clockwise
affected by structures belonging to both the two during progressive deformation; this rotation deter-
phases of deformation (Fig. 11c, g & l); and (3) a mined the development of an extensional basin and
southern zone close to the contact between the NE-striking left-lateral faults in domain II.
rigid block and the second phase moving wall
characterized by structures formed mainly during
the second phase of deformation (Fig. 11d, h & m). Qualitative comparison of model results
In zone 1, shortening resulted in the develop- with the geology
ment of thrusts and box-type folds; thrusts with
a prevailing vergence to the foreland, propagated Limitations of modelling
up to 9 cm in front of the moving wall (Fig. 11b, Many natural parameters concerning the rhe-
f & j). Because of the high strength contrast ology and the boundary conditions of the
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 133

Fig. 11. Photographs of longitudinal sections.


134 M. CERCA ET AL.

represents a simplification of the natural process,


where forces causing deformation of the litho-
sphere at plate boundaries may be transmitted
vertically from below, driven by deformation of
the mantle (Tikoff & Teyssier 1998). Addition- Q2
ally, in all the models, the rigid block was
attached to the moving wall during transpression,
preventing important block rotations likely to
have occurred in the natural prototype.
From a rheological point of view, the simple
two-layer structure of the model, which is
intended to simulate the crust only, is a further
simplification of the natural situation. The exper-
imental series was designed to investigate the
deformation around a strong (rigid) crustal
block (MOJB) embedded within a normal con-
tinental crust. Since the crustal strength resides in
the upper brittle layer, our model set-up
Fig. 12. Simplified map of resulting domains of considered a uniformly thick continental crust
deformation. Arrows indicate the direction of characterized by a region with thicker brittle
convergence. crust. This implies that in the models the
ductile crust below the rigid block is thinner
than elsewhere. Unless the crust and mantle are
deformation process under investigation are not decoupled, the compression of two adjacent
easy to obtain and frequently data in the literature crustal sections with different thicknesses may
are scarce, as is the case in southern Mexico. As a result in the indentation of the upper mantle of
consequence, analogue modelling necessarily the thinner block into the less rigid lower crust
simplifies the geometry and the rheology of the of the thicker block (Harry et al. 1995).
complex natural process and these simplifica- In addition, the cohesion of clay used in model
tions have to be made explicit before comparing Chortis 04 is not properly scaled and clearly
the results with the geology. exceeds the rigidity of the natural prototype, so
Geometrical simplifications of the current that the clay block behaved as an indenter,
models involve the simulation of the Laramide emphasizing deformations at block boundaries.
orogeny that caused deformation in a wide For this reason the results can only be qualitavely
fold-and-thrust belt in southern Mexico. This compared to the structures in the field. Several
deformation phase has been attributed to mech- factors can have an influence on the structures
anical coupling between a subhorizontally sub- formed by deformation, such as erosion and
ducted slab and an overriding continental crust deposition in basins, pre-existing structures,
(Dickinson et al. 1988; Bird 1998). However, it effect of pore pressure in the growth and propa-
has been observed that analogue models shor- gation of structures, thermal evolution or isostasy
tened by advancing a rigid vertical boundary effects, none of which were considered in the
laterally simulate most of the characteristics of modelling. Nevertheless, despite the above-
fold-and-thrust belts (Bonini 2001). In the mentioned simplifications, comparisons of
second phase, the deformation is attributed to model results with Nature were useful in under-
the motion of the Chortis block after its partial standing the structural evolution.
detachment from North America in the Early
Tertiary (Herrmann et al. 1994). The shear
zone bounding the Xolapa complex to the north Comparison with Nature
has an ESE strike, but, as structures observed Although a single model cannot explain all the
in the field are mostly compatible with a trans- structural complexity observed in Nature, the
pressive regime, the movement of the wall was combined results of our experiments simulated
made to simulate an ENE direction of the con- most of the styles of deformation and large-
traction, and variations in the plate boundary scale structures observed around the rigid
through time were not considered. During the crustal block of the MOJB. Thus, these results
experiments, the compressive stresses causing suggest that the processes affecting both model
model deformation are transmitted from the and natural prototype were similar. We empha-
rigid moving wall, thus simulating a lateral trans- size that our models are pertinent in a time inter-
mission of forces from the plate boundaries. This val from 88 to 36 Ma. Line drawings of
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 135

models compared with a schematic structural Laramide structures have a double vergence
map of the south of Mexico are presented in and they have been interpreted in terms of a pro-
Figure 13. gressive ductile shear (Salinas-Prieto et al.
The fold-and-thrust belt (Fig. 13, structure 1) 2000). During our experiments, double vergence
of southern Mexico has been associated with was modelled and was accentuated by the pre-
the amalgamation of tectonic blocks during the sence of the rigid block.
Mesozoic or the Early Tertiary, the time of the The first effect of the second phase of defor-
Laramide episode. Recent microstructural data mation is counterclockwise rotation of the
in the eastern Guerrero terrane suggest that the thrusts and folds in the southwestern part of

Fig. 13. Comparison of models with the natural prototype. The natural prototype structures are based mainly on
Campa & Coney (1983), Sedlock et al. (1993), Ortega-Gutierrez et al. (1999), Elas-Herrera & Ortega-Gutierrez (2002),
Ham-Wong (1981) and our own field data.
136 M. CERCA ET AL.

the model (Fig. 13, structure 2). Similar effects with the deposition of Tertiary red beds in the
have been documented in the southern part of eastern Guerrero state.
the Guerrero Morelos platform (Cerca & Ferrari
2001). Other evidence of Tertiary counterclock-
wise vertical-axis rotations in this area has been Vertical coupling and decoupling in the crust
inferred from the palaeomagnetic data from of southern Mexico during the Late
Cretaceous carbonate sequences (Molina-Garza
et al. 2003). Cretaceous and the Tertiary
Vertical-axis rotations and lateral translation Our new fieldwork linked with previous research
of the high-strength block in the model mirror has recognized three deformation phases in
complex structures and thrusting of the rigid southern Mexico: Late Cretaceous (Laramide)
block over the adjacent crust at Papalutla shortening, Early Tertiary left-lateral transpression,
(Fig. 13, structure 3), consistent with the geome- and post-Eocene transtension. A series of ana-
try of the Papalutla thrust and related defor- logue models have been used to simulate the
mation in the Early Tertiary basins to the NW role of a rigid and thicker block (MOJB) within
(Cerca & Ferrari 2001). Progressive strain at the upper crust during the first two deformation
the eastern margin of the rigid block produced phases. The design of the models implies that
a thrust that propagated to the NW closely the resulting structural pattern is mainly
following the geometry of the block. This struc- controlled by the strength of the upper brittle
ture strikingly resembles the geometry and the crust and the forces applied at the vertical bound-
kinematics of the Vista Hermosa fault (Fig. 13, aries of the MOJB. Although these conditions
structure 4), which has thrust Palaeozoic schists are given a priori, we believe that this could be
over Jurassic rocks (Sedlock et al. 1993). the real case. Indeed it is likely that during the
To the north of the rigid block in the exper- Laramide orogeny the mantle lithosphere was
iments, uplift and arcuate folding of the adjacent removed or at least weakened by the subhori-
part of the model were observed. This pattern of zontal subduction of the Farallon plate. If this
deformation, clearly influenced by the geometry is the case, in the following stage the upper
of the rigid block, was emphasized in the model crust remained the most rigid part of the whole
with the clay block. Similar structures were system. This view supports the claim of Jackson
observed in the natural prototype in the Tentzo (2002) that the detailed patterns of surface fault-
Ranges (Fig. 13, structure 5) where folds of ing in orogenic zones are predominantly con-
Cretaceous carbonates define an arc convex trolled by the strength of the upper crustal blocks
toward the north. Although most of these folds and by the faults bounding them rather than by
were produced by the decollement of the carbo- forces applied at the base of the lithosphere.
nate succession, this process was likely triggered In addition, in the models, decoupling between
by the uplift of the basement as simulated in the ductile and brittle layers was enhanced by the
model. As in the case of the Papalutla fault, the presence of the block. The higher strength and
Tentzo Ranges were considered to be produced thickness of the block increase the mechanical
during the Laramide orogeny (Monroy & Sosa contrast between brittle and ductile layers and
1984). However, their anomalous orientation hence the decoupling between lower and upper
with respect to the general trend of the Laramide layers. This causes a propagation of strain in a
structures has not hitherto been explained. wide area around the block during the second
One obvious difference between analogue deformation phase. Thus, in our models, coup-
models and southern Mexico is that the structures ling or decoupling between the ductile and
observed within the MOJB did not develop in the brittle layers are determined by the thickness
models. These structures can be explained as and the rigidity of the upper crustal layer.
reactivation of discontinuities existing before In Nature, southern Mexico was subject to a
the Laramide event. One major example is the general left-lateral strike slip regime along the
Oaxaca fault, which exhibits a complex history developing Caribbean North America plate
of lateral, inverse and normal movements begin- boundary. During this Early Tertiary phase,
ning at least from the Jurassic or even the Palaeo- strain in the lower crust should have been distrib-
zoic time (Alaniz-Alvarez et al. 1994, 1996). uted homogeneously in the deformation zone
Only tight folds and strike-slip faults affecting between the two plates. By contrast, the defor-
Tertiary red beds (Fig. 13, structure 6) resemble mation observed in the upper crust was focused
structures formed in the models. Finally, in the on a small number of structures around the
case of the model Chortis 04, left-lateral strike- MOJB. This radically different pattern of defor-
slip and a basin are formed in the southwestern mation implies a small degree of coupling
side of the block (Fig. 13, structure 7) coincident between upper and lower crust.
COUPLING DURING LARAMIDE SHORTENING 137

Conclusions this work. MC also thanks CONACYT, whose grants


permitted him to pursue his PhD, and a research stay in
We have performed a series of analogue model- Italy.
ling experiments to simulate the effect of two
deformation phases on a layered brittleductile
modelled crust incorporating a thicker upper
crustal block. The block was constructed with References
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anisotropy effects of a high contrast in strength ORTEGA -GUTIERREZ , F. 1994. Structural evolution
and cohesion. Models reproduced most of the of the Sierra de Juarez mylonitic complex, State of
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suggesting a close similarity in deformation pro- Geologicas, 11, 147 156.
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reinterpretation of several key features of the SAMANIEGO , A.F. & ORTEGA -GUTIERREZ , F. 1996.
Radiometric and kinematic evidence for Middle
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Mexico. We identify structures consistent with related to the opening of the Gulf of Mexico.
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which interfere with the structures formed pre- ALANIZ -ALVAREZ , S.A., NIETO -SAMANIEGO , A.F.,
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Mesozoic and Early Tertiary tectonic evolution of
The experiments show that most of the structures southern Mexico: structure and deformation
observed in Nature can be reproduced using rela- history of the Tierra Caliente region, southern
tively few parameters and a simple two-layer Mexico. Journal of Geology, 108, 427446.
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is controlled by the thickness and the rigidity of gica Mexicana, 39, 52 64.
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This research was supported by grant CONACyT 32509-T American Earth Sciences, 13, 479489.
(to LF) and CONACYT CNR bilateral grant. We thank CERCA , M. & FERRARI , L. 2001. Vertically decoupled
Giovana Moratti, Chiara Delventisette and Domenico Paleocene Eocene wrenching in southern Mexico
Montanari for their support and help during the laboratory and its possible relation with the activation of
work. Guido Schreurs, John Grocott, Dora Carreon- the Caribbean North America boundary. Eos
Freyre, Susana Alaniz and an anonymous reviewer pro- Trans. AGU, 82 (47), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract
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138 M. CERCA ET AL.

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